A Postmortem of the 103rd Congress

You might wish to read the Prelude to this post. Below is a reprint of an article I wrote back in 1997. It was originally titled by me as “Politics as Usual?  It was published by the Columbia Missourian on January 16, 1997, under the title, “Our Busy Congress.”

*****

It’s hard not to notice the political feuds in Congress these days.  On one hand we have President Bill Clinton, the highest-ranking Democrat in the country, immersed in a scandal over accepting illegal campaign contributions.  On the other hand, we have Newt Gingrich, re-elected Speaker of the House, and one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the country, immersed in a scandal over illegal use of legally donated campaign funds. 

For those of you who have managed to remain totally news-free, or in a padded cell for the past two months, it seems the President accepted large contributions (in excess of $2 million) from overseas interests in Asia, and Newt funneled domestic campaign contributions through tax-exempt GOP organizations to sponsor his own politically-oriented college classes.  Clinton returned the money, or so that’s the official position, and Newt followed up his digressions by lying to a Congressional Subcommittee. So now that money is back in Asia, and Newt has admitted to his lies, many people feel everything is just wonderful again. 

Such is politics.

As I mulled over the start of this new year of political scandals, I asked myself, “Why don’t you keep a scrapbook of such political folly?” Then I answered, “Many trees would have to be sacrificed.”  So instead, I moved on to a more pertinent question, “Just what do these politicians do anyway?”  I mean we always hear about what they’re promising to do and about the laws they are busy breaking, but what do they really do that is worth the fat salary and benefits we, the American public, so graciously provide?”

I decided to visit the library and seek out their accomplishments.

I entered the government documents section of the library and located “The Statutes at Large.”  You see, many trees had already been sacrificed. 

These large volumes contain the lists of all public laws enacted by Congress in any given legislative session.  Unfortunately, the Government Printing Office (GPO) has not yet published the many accomplishments of the 104th Congress (probably another shut-down or something), so I had to forgo examining just how well that old “Contract with America” was fulfilled.

For now, I would have to settle for a review of the 103rd Congress (second session), but I figured it would be reflective of just how hard our elected representatives worked.  I was right, and I got the distinct impression that any of us could perform their arduous tasks with our arms and legs tied behind our backs. Oh yeah, you could also burn our eyes out with a hot poker, and that still wouldn’t slow us down in terms of Congressional time.

Did you know that Congress declared March 20, 1994, National Agriculture Day?  I was amazed too.  March 23rd was christened Education and Sharing Day, March 24th became Greek Independence Day, March 20th through March 26th is now Small Family Farm Week, and the entire month of March was renamed Irish American Heritage Month. 

But that’s not all.

Moving on to May, the week of May 1st to May 7th was designated National Walking Week, but the week of May 2nd to May 8th became Public Service Recognition Week. I didn’t know weeks could overlap like that, but hey, if Congress says so, I guess it is all right.  Why the 103rd Congress even authorized the President to declare September Classical Music Month, and the entire year (1994) as The Year of Gospel Music.  In fact, if we total them all up, the 103rd Congress placed names on fourteen days, ten weeks, eight months and two years, and all in just one legislative session! 

We should be proud!

Congress didn’t just spend time renaming days of the year, oh no.  They also named a lot of buildings. They designated the Federal Building in Trenton, New Jersey as the Clarkson S. Fisher Federal Building and Courthouse.  They didn’t stop with federal buildings and courthouses, they also named post offices like the Fannie Lou Hamer Post Office in Ruleville, Mississippi.  I bet a lot of elected officials come from Ruleville – they’ve got a rule for everything!  They even renamed a few buildings like the Post Office in Wichita Falls, Texas, now named the Graham B. Purcell, Jr. Post Office Building.  I’m not sure what it was named before, but I’m sure this is a much better name for a post office.

All totaled, they named fifteen courthouses, eight federal buildings, and nineteen post offices.  A good year for buildings.

I didn’t realize it, but we’re still negotiating with the American Indians.  The 103rd Congress passed the Crow Boundary Settlement Act of 1994, where they confederated the tribes of the Colville Reservation; settled water rights with the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe in Arizona; completed the Mohegan Nation of Connecticut Lands Claims Settlement; and provided for an annual publication listing recognized Indian tribes.  I guess while they were at it, as a sign of good faith, they designated November as National American Indian Heritage Month.

I’m glad they wrote the date on these, because for a moment I thought I was looking at 1890s legislation, not 1990s.

Now I don’t want to make too much fun of our elected officials, after all, they did allocate time to pass Public Law 103-407, the Sheep Promotion Research and Information Act of 1994, and they amended Title 18 regarding certain crimes relating to Congressional Medals of Honor. (Gee, I wonder which crimes are related to the Medal of Honor). Why they even passed legislation, Public Law 103-351, to express the “Sense of Congress” in Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary the Grand Canyon National Park.

I’m still struggling with how to express what possible sense I could have when it came to voting for these guys, but then again, that doesn’t take an official act of Congress.

All told, the 103rd Congress focused a full twenty-eight percent (72 out of 255 pieces of legislation) of their efforts and time on naming days, months, years, and buildings; and another twenty percent or so recognizing farm animals and expressing their “sense and wisdom.”  So, while the two parties are busy accusing themselves of playing politics, remember, at least one part of this statement is painfully true – they are definitely playing, but more like children.

This country elects 435 Representatives and 100 Senators to address our interests in Washington.  At an annual salary of $133,000 each, it costs the American taxpayer $71,155,000 dollars a year (not counting benefits and perks) to buy that representation.  A recurring them of politicians of late is that “the age of big government is dead.”  It seems to me these politicians might owe us a “big” refund for all of that wasted time spent passing frivolous legislation. 

Perhaps the best bill passed by the 103rd Congress was Public Law 103-395, which provided for the convening of the First Session of the 104th Congress, but then again, maybe not.  We’ll have to wait for the GPO to publish their list of accomplishments . . .

In Metta

Photos: The feature photo is of the WWII Memorial. Beautifully done. The Photo below is pretty obvious being the White House and the Washington Monument. I’ve been fortunate with having several trips to DC.

BTW: The “official” APA citation would be: Stearley, H. E. (1997, January 16).  Columbia Missourian, p. 4A. Headline: Our ‘Busy’ Congress.

Rabbit Holes:

If you are interested in reading about the “Contract with America,” you’ll find a good summary here: Contract with America.

Statistical Breakdown of the Membership of the 116th Congress

This report presents a profile of the membership of the 116th Congress (2019-2020) as of December 17, 2020

In the House of Representatives, there are 237 Democrats (including 4 Delegates), 197 Republicans (including 1 Delegate and the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico), 2 Independent/ Libertarians, and 5 vacant seats. The Senate has 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and 2 Independents, who both caucus with the Democrats.

·The average age of Members of the House at the beginning of the 116th Congress was 57.6 years; of Senators, 62.9 years.

·The overwhelming majority, 96%, of Members of Congress have a college education.

·The dominant professions of Members are public service/politics, business, and law.

·Most Members identify as Christians, and the collective majority of these affiliate with a Protestant denomination. Roman Catholics account for the largest single religious denomination, and numerous other affiliations are represented, including Jewish, Mormon, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Greek Orthodox, Pentecostal Christian, Unitarian Universalist, and Adventist.

·The average length of service for Representatives at the beginning of the 116th Congress was 8.6 years (4.3 House terms); for Senators, 10.1 years (1.7 Senate terms).

·One hundred thirty women serve in the 116th Congress: 105 in the House, including 3 Delegates and the Resident Commissioner, and 25 in the Senate.

·There are 54 African American Members of the House and 3 in the Senate. This House number includes two Delegates.

·There are 51 Hispanic or Latino Members (a record number) serving: 46 in the House, including 2 Delegates and the Resident Commissioner, and 5 in the Senate.

·There are 20 Members (14 Representatives, 3 Delegates, and 3 Senators) who are Asian Americans, Indian Americans, or Pacific Islander Americans. This is also a record number.

·A record four American Indians (Native Americans) serve in the House. The portions of this report covering political party affiliation, gender, ethnicity, and vacant seat

Salaries and Benefits of US Congress Members

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